Parliament gears up for session amid Covid spike
Top officials of the two houses of Indian parliament are exploring options including a staggered timetable for the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha and a highly dispersed seating arrangement for the MPs for the upcoming budget session scheduled to start on January 31 amidst an Omicron-led surge in fresh Covid-19 cases.
“We are looking at various options. But the final decision will depend on the Covid situation towards the end of this month. The Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha chairman will meet around January 25 or 26 to decide how to run the session,” said a top-ranking functionary.
The budget session is perhaps the most important sitting of Parliament, and also its longest. The Union Budget is presented at the beginning of the session.
The functionary cited above said it is not clear whether the session will run its normal course in the shadow of the third wave of the coronavirus disease pandemic, one that has affected several lawmakers, key leaders and officials of both houses. A top official of Parliament said that elections in five states including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are another key factor that might result in a curtailed session.
On Monday, Vice President and Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu spoke to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to take stock of the situation and also directed both secretary generals accordingly. The two of them wanted to review the adequacy of Covid-safetly protocols followed during the last winter session in the context of the third wave.
“Our main target is to ensure lawmakers and other people who come to Parliament remain safe. So, to minimize the crowd and keeping in mind social distancing, we might have to opt for two different timetables for the two houses. One will start in the morning and the other in the afternoon,” said a second functionary involved in the discussions.
This would also allow prevent all lawmakers from gathering in the chamber. “In the monsoon session of 2020, we decided that the Rajya Sabha sits in the morning and the Lok Sabha in the afternoon. So, MPs from one House could occupy a seat in the chamber, the galleries and in the other House as well,” added this person.
The same arrangement may be followed in the budget session.
A high-ranking Lok Sabha functionary said, “Indian Parliament has run during the Covid pandemic and we have shown our ability to adhere to parliamentary norms even during a major health crisis.”
On Tuesday, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla inspected the Parliament House Complex to take stock of health safety related measures and other preparations put in place in light of the recent spike in Covid-19 cases in the country.